Combining poetry, storytelling and anticipation with his fictional stories, Abdourahman Waberi creates a work haunted by cross-border issues. From country without shadow (1994) au Passage of tears (2009), from Gate (1998) at Transit (2003) et In the United States of Africa (2006), the Franco-Djiboutian is the author of ten books. He’s coming out in a few weeks. Tell me who I exist for (ed. Jean-Claude Lattès) the second part of an intimate diptych addressed to his daughter and started with Why do you dance when you walk (2019).
The one who teaches French and Francophone literature as well as literary creation at the University of Washington also likes to approach these subjects through music, which has always accompanied him. It was moreover the heart and the pretext of The Divine Song (2015), a story about African-American musician Gil Scott-Heron. From Mahmoud Ahmed to Aya Nakamura, Abdourahman Waberi opens his nightclub to us.
Capcov: What are your earliest musical memories?
Abdourahman Waberi: They come from Somali artists, from Djibouti, from Somalia, from Ethiopia too. Some of their works have been revisited and reissued recently by a New York label, Ostinato Records, which produced an album of the official musical formation of the national broadcaster Radiodiffusion-Télévision Djibouti (RTD).
I was also bathed, later, par the Sudanese Arabic-language soundtrack, very famous in the region, and in Ethio jazz. I remember Mahmoud Ahmed’s heartbreaking slows, which punctuated teenage parties. And, for the record, one of my memories of the time was the radio credits of the ORTF, which was a title taken from the album Kar Kar, by Boubacar Traore.
An album or a piece having participated in your awakening, whether political or social?
The piece of awareness, for me, is “Get up Stand Up”. Bob Marley raised awareness throughout the “Global South”. He had a unifying role, ferment of Pan-Africanism in action, from Haitians to Djiboutians, from Reunionese to Algerians. The South is waking up. This Marley bass guitar is almost Bandung, it’s there to call and gather. It is both a memory, that of a fight for dignity, and an actualized struggle. But I also think of the artists of my childhood, those who lived behind my house, in a slum in Djibouti. In one of these houses lived in particular Aden Farah, popular artist, independentist. I grew up during this period when the anti-colonial fight was at my doorstep.
For you, author of united states of africaIs Bob Marley the musician who best embodies Pan-Africanism?
Bob Marley spoke from his neighborhood, about his reality in Jamaica. We are the ones who analyze his work as pan-African, between his first piece, “Rude Boy”, and one of his last, “Zimbabwe”. It becomes the world, the black South in any case. It was a natural pan-Africanism. There is a more conscious, more voluntarist pan-Africanism, which we find for example in Miriam Makeba, with “Pata Pata”. I saw her, as a teenager, perform in Djibouti, at the French Cultural Center. I remember his dances and his ability to wake up a room that was not necessarily attentive at the start. She stirred the crowds.
Several of your works deal with the theme of exile and nomadism. What is the piece that carries them?
I am thinking of Idir and the title “A Vava Inouva”. Even when you don’t understand his language, you feel the heartbreak, the uprooting from the earth.
What music accompanied your arrival in France?
As a student in Normandy, I had my Léo Ferré period, which I listened to a lot, as well as the first titles of Renaud. Above all, I am a fan, since that time, of Barbara, ma diva, whom I saw three times in concert.
Your last two novels, auto-fiction, are shot through with illness and pain. What songs calm you down?
For me, a healing musician – which I spoke about in Passage of tears –, it is the South African pianist Ibrahim Abdullah. In particular, he tried to invent a spiritual, popular and scholarly South African jazz. All his research work is magnificent. I took care of myself [en écoutant] Ibrahim Abdullah
You have dedicated a novel to Gil Scott-Heron, The Divine Song. What place does it occupy in your career?
It allowed me to show that the Black Atlantic by Paul Gilroy is always “updatable”. Gil’s father is a Jamaican migrant who will go to Chicago and be one of Britain’s first black footballers, a Celtics star. Gil allowed me to sew all these threads and to link it, too, to Anatolian music. It was a Gilroy-style vehicle. It was part of the soundtrack of black music from my adolescence. Even if I discovered, later, the Kool and the Gang, Ray Charles, Lionel Richie or even Stevie Wonder… All the Motown that we listened to at the same time as we watched the films of Shaft.
In a colonial context, we took revenge symbolically by watching these films revolving around the black American ghetto. For the first time we saw a black put a donut to whites. And it was Isaac Hayes who did the soundtrack, which I listened to a lot at the time.
A piece of guilty pleasure?
Paolo Conte, especially the track “Via Con Me”, which I listened to on repeat.
You teach literature by making links between it and hip-hop, American or French. What are the hits on your playlist?
I’m very impressed with hip-hop old school. I really like Eric B. and Rakim, RZA, Wu Tang Clan, and, for the most recent ones, Kendrick Lamar. He has the pen of a journalist and a novelist. On the French side, I’m a fan of Aya Nakamura. She invents a language. I also like its assumed bling-bling side.
What are your latest musical discoveries?
Thanks to my friend Rocé, in particular, I discovered Elom20ce. And while discussing with my children, I, just yesterday, discovered Tiakola and SDM.
All the episodes of our series to find ici :
[Série] Playlist: writer Hemley Boum’s selection (1/7)
[Série] Playlist: the selection of the writer Wilfried N’Sondé (2/7)
[Série] The playlist of the writer Mohamed Mbougar Sarr (3/7)